User Fees: The devil in disguise
June 12, 2013
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  • As a worldwide international ferry pilot, I have a lot of experience dealing with user fees. Most countries have them to varying degrees and they can only be described as pernicious. They are not good for pilots and are horrible for general aviation.

    Our president wants to initiate a humble $100 user fee on some GA jet flights only. That sounds innocuous enough, but with government’s insatiable appetite for money, that $100 user fee will soon spread to all GA aircraft and increase to hundreds of dollars. The fees will leech the blood right out of GA with no benefit to GA whatsoever.

    In fact, there may be no benefit at all, once the government hires thousands of new employees to administer the user fees. After taking the salaries and benefits of these new employees into consideration, it is dubious to think that the government will even make money on such fees. Our current form of paying an added tax on jet fuel and avgas is by far the best and most efficient way to fund GA.

    When flying in foreign countries I always try to limit my landings as much as possible to cut down on the hassles and expense of dealing with user fees. A landing in a foreign country can mean aggravated delays caused by having to deal with several government employees to pay fees. I would rather concentrate on the essential things — checking weather, getting fuel, and filing a flight plan.

    Many countries, such as Australia, charge more for IFR flight plans than for VFR. That sets up the perfect storm to where pilots try to get around filing IFR to save money.

    You get virtually no help from ATC if you are flying on a VFR flight plan in Australia. One time I was in a Cessna 210 descending VFR into the Sydney area when suddenly a Metroliner flying “VFR” dropped screaming out of the “clouds” and whisked right in front of me like a streaking meteor. Trust me that was scary enough, but can you imagine planes flying around in the clouds without an IFR clearance in an area with dense air traffic like Los Angeles?

    Over the last five years, I’ve ferried 46 planes to Brazil, so I will use it as an example of how user fees work in other parts of the world. I have used many entrance points in Brazil, but during my most recent ferry I entered through Boa Vista, so I will use that experience to show how a simple landing fee can grow and spread into a monster.

    Let’s take a look at what it cost me to go into Boa Vista in May in a Cessna 185:
    Landing fee with one person onboard $54
    Parking for one night $4
    Air navigation aids charge $72
    Communication with approach control $30
    Communication with tower $50
    Ataero (An airport tariff ) $20
    Total $230 USD

    These fees have almost doubled since my first time into Boa Vista five years ago. On this arrival I came in day VFR with good weather using nothing but my GPS for navigation (so why was I charged $72 for nav aids?). If I had to shoot an ILS that would have been an extra charge.

    All night landings are charged extra for runway lights. Nothing is provided in the parking area. You must bring your own chocks and ropes if you want to secure your plane since the weather there can get extremely rowdy during monsoon season.

    In reality you are getting charged a lot for very little. I was charged for things I never used and charged for things I never got. And a landing fee of $54 for a little 3,350-pound single engine plane?

    These charges are purely a money grab tactic by government. Make no mistake, this will happen here if we allow just one simple user fee to get established.

    I don’t know about you, but I enjoy what I call my last great freedom, and that is being able to go out to my hangar anytime 24/7 and fly my Cessna 180 anywhere in this large beautiful country. If it is night, no problem, I can land at just about any GA airport by simply clicking my mic on the CTAF and then pulling up to the self serve fuel pump and pulling out my credit card to fill my plane with avgas.

    I can do this here in the United States without any intrusive fees or counter-productive delays in dealing with such fees and I don’t even have to file a flight plan. And guess what? VFR radar flight following is always there for me, too. All of this is simply not possible in any other country in the world.

    My wife and I have enjoyed this great freedom for years, but user fees would be a great way to government to curtail this freedom.

    Flying in Brazil can only be described as Third World at best. Forget about flying at night. Many GA airports have no lights and even if they do it can be a major hassle to get someone to turn them on for you when you arrive. Fuel is not available late at night. Trying to talk to ATC is impossible in many areas of Brazil unless you are above 20,000 feet. Radar does not exist in many areas of Brazil as well and there is no VFR radar flight following, period. WAAS does not exist.

    It always strikes me as sad that Brazil — with all of its intrusive/expensive fees — does not have near the aviation system that we have.

    And that, my friends, is pretty much the situation all over the world. User fees are not helping GA in any of these countries — they are only hurting it. Let’s not become another sad victim of this horrible track record with user fees.

    What can you do to prevent this destructive government behavior from happening here? First and foremost, join the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. It is the largest, and pretty much the only, GA lobbying force in Washington, D.C., and it is very effective.

    Write to your elected representatives on your own. Many in Congress have already gone on record opposing user fees, but the more they hear from the GA community, the stronger our case will be.

    Lastly, get your fellow pilots involved. In this instance, especially, the GA community needs to stick together.

    When it comes to user fees, it’s like Elvis used to croon years ago in one of his songs: “You’re the devil in disguise.”